Finding Out What Works In Wirksworth

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness,” so the story goes in Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities.

I’ve often thought I need to lift the standard of this blog from the murky depths of ska music, Birmingham City, karaoke, Thomas The Tank Engine, Loose Women on ITV and Mick Channon windmill goal celebrations.

So what better than a little bit of prose from the only book I can remember reading during my English ‘O’ Level..this is about as literary as I get as I’d much rather read an Irvine Welsh novel these days.

Nevertheless, Dickens could have been describing a gloriously frosty night in Wirksworth as opposed to the French revolution as my two drinking buddies and I discovered “A Tale of two pubs.”

However, before I go on I can reveal that one of these boozers is in fact in the 2017 GBG unbeknown to my good self.

Wirksworth Royal Oak

I can already sense the anxiety as seasoned GBG tickers Martin, Duncan and BRAPA plot a route to a backstreet boozer in Wirksworth that only opens at 8pm!

Wirksworth is a small town (cheers Mudgie) in the Derbyshire Dales  with some proper local shops as opposed to huge chain stores but if Martin arrives before noon, as is his wont, he might struggle, even if Mrs RM goes shopping to fill eight hours before heading off to 105 – The Royal Oak DE4 4FG.

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Seven nights a week this place opens from eight till midnight apart from an extra Sunday session from 12-4, but it appears to have created the perfect storm.

The term backstreet boozer was invented for a place like this on the outskirts of the town  as it is nestled in between lots of grit stone houses that are peppered all over the Dales and was absolutely packed when we arrived at around 9.30.

I don’t have a GBG so I don’t know which boozers are in or not but a bit of posthumous research showed that this is one of Derbyshire’s entries.  Apparently longstanding licensees retired in the not too distant past but it looks as though the current incumbents (I know it’s Jim Angus because it says so on the sign above the entrance) have kept the same recipe as the locals are flocking here.

(a remarkable selection of keyrings!) (who says the age range is a typical GBG pub?!)

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There is basically one main room, a smaller room with a pool table and the added bonus of outside toilets, which is always a character test on a sub-zero Wednesday evening!   They breed them tough in Wirksworth though and tradition is obviously appreciated and everyone was in good spirits with a friendly welcoming atmosphere and a tremendous array of bric-a-brac

Which was a good job, as there was a decent queue at the bar, almost like a Saturday night in a city centre… but it was worth the wait with a nice drop of Moonshine (Abbeydale) that helped with the all-round ambience.

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So if this was the best of times then earlier in the evening we visited 106 – The Blacks Head DE4 4EG then that might be going through the worst of times.

Which is a shame as, to all intents and purposes, it is a pub that is just as good as the Oak but it just had no one in it! At about 8.15 on a Wednesday night there was just one bloke, our party of three and the barmaid.  That’s it.

I often wonder what it is that means one pub has punters and another doesn’t when there is not a lot to choose between them, as this is set in an 18th Century building and looks the part.

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It’s open for 13 hours a day as opposed to just four, so it might be that the clientele is more spread out over the day (not sure about that one really) as opposed the Royal Oak with its four hours of heaving atmosphere and drinkers…a bit like a drinking version of the Mount Pleasant Inn in Repton (pub 46).

We asked the only other punter where the name originates from and he reckoned it was to do with the dark beers that were brewed and drunk in this region, but he didn’t hang around for much longer after that and we had the place to ourselves.

Maybe it was the lack of atmosphere that stopped punters coming in?  Maybe they were all at home watching Manchester City nick a win over Southampton on Sky Sports?  Maybe they were reading Charles Dickens novels? Maybe it was the old pub sign that now adorns the walls inside that was putting them off?

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We couldn’t put our finger on it as it was a decent boozer and I had a good pint of Original Bitter (Morland) but when we walked back to the car at 10.15 it was shut.  Yes, shut up shop 45 minutes early along with another pub we saw (The Wheatsheaf) which leads me to believe there may not be room for lots of boozers in modern-day Wirksworth although The Feather Star (so good it gets its own post soon) was also heaving and open.

What is the X-Factor that separates darkness and light, good from bad (don’t worry, I will be back to punk rock and Championship football soon) and means one pub is full and another isn’t?

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According to one sage in the Star it was a simple as, “The Royal Oak is a great boozer really traditional.  People seem to have stopped going to the Blacks Head as much, I don’t know why.”

There you have it, conclusive proof that there is no rhyme or reason for pubs of a similar nature to thrive or flop!

However, the beauty of pub going is that I could go on another night and the roles might, just might be reversed or both of these boozers might be full to capacity.

Maybe we are heading back to a time before 24/7 opening when people only had a shorter timespan to drink as the Royal Oak proved that less is most definitely more.

The good news for Martin, Duncan and Si is that I have managed to find a bus service for them to explore the delights of the Dales and check out a gem of a boozer (see opening picture/poster).  If you get there too early maybe you could pop into the Blacks Head for a livener as I am sure they would be glad to see you.

They’ve even put the festive decorations up so don’t delay…

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25 thoughts on “Finding Out What Works In Wirksworth

  1. Are you winding me up mate ! “Manchester City nick a win over Southampton”. Did you see it ? Result never in doubt. etc etc

    Love that photo of the crowd in the Oak, distraught you didn’t have the Bass. I visited on a Sunday, loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wirksworth is a lovely place, although I think it qualifies as a town rather than a village, and I’m sure the locals would say the same. Before 1974 it was an Urban District in its own right.

    My only recent pub experience is in fact in the Black’s Head, where I had a very nice pint of GK-brewed Hardys & Hansons Bitter in October last year. it was at lunchtime, so the Royal Oak wasn’t an option.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wirksworth is an interesting town that appears more prosperous now than when I first went. Been to the Royal Oak as previous GBG entry but not Feather Star. Only other pub I have listed as been to there is Hope and Anchor is wonder if it has gone.

    Nice post and by the way I like reading about the murky depths of ska etc!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s much better! Abbeydale Moonshine, not a bad drop at all. I think all too often we overlook the influence of the licensee on a pub and it can often explain why one pub is busy and a similar one nearby isn’t. Opening hours are a big factor too, but, and it’s a big but, you have to stick to them so people know where they are. A pub near me has started closing on Sunday evening as soon as the last of the afternoon session/football crowd have gone around 7pm. Yes, perhaps the licensee realises that all his custom has gone home and new callers will be few and far between. But what about potential new customers? They’ll say, well we walked down and it was shut, you never know when he’s open – so they don’t even try it any more now. Result no new customers and negative spiral. Compare with the short hours and the packed pub in your photo – obviously they know when it’s open and flock to it and everyone’s a winner!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Sunday evening close down has become quite widespread – it is fairly common on our canal trips to find that some places close after the Sunday Lunch crowd have gone…any time from 6 – 8 pm and they’ll be shut. We’ve come to expect it now, so it isn’t the shock that it was the first couple of times we encountered it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Interesting. I get the logistics of it, especially in an owner/operator type premises, but it hardly attracts new customers, especially when the opening times are till 11? Perhaps the publicised times should state till 6pm and those who are in know they are ok until end of session – whatever time that may be. I just like to know where I stand as a customer that’s all.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I first went to Wirksworth on the 2nd may 1983 and did 6 pubs with a gang of mates,the Hope & Anchor was an Home Ales tied house,the Blacks Head was a Kimberley tied house,when i revisited Wirksworth on the 22nd April 2006 the Blacks Head had a different sign to the one inside the pub,i did two more pubs in the town that day.
    There was an estate pub on the main road to the South of the town centre that i missed,when i went back to do it at a later date it had been pulled down.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A most enjoyable read, and thought provoking as well.

    I don’t think anyone in the service industry will ever truly figure out why customers/punters etc. decide to shop at a certain time or go to certain pubs at certain times. But I think those shorter hours for the Royal Oak play a part.

    Way back in my younger drinking days when I was at uni (late 70s) we lived close enough to the border to hop into the US to go drinking at times. We noticed most folk go out within the last four hours of a place closing. For example, in Ontario the bars/pubs back then had to close by 1am and it usually started to get busy around 9pm (4 hours). However when we went to New York state (Buffalo mostly) their closing times were 4am and the bars didn’t start to get busy until midnight (again, 4 hours).

    Perhaps the folk know they can go to the other pubs at any time but for the Royal Oak they have to do it in the evening… and then with so many people going there it becomes the thing to do.

    Again though, good luck in discovering that X-factor. If you finally figure it out you could make millions marketing it to all and sundry. 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

  7. I always prefered Home Ales over Kimberley and Shipstones over both,Kimberley Bitter was a bit too sweet for our liking.
    People who lived in South Derbyshire could never get on with Shippos Bitter or Mild,far too bitter for them.

    Liked by 1 person

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